Reality Check: Chipotle Returns to Authentic Roots in New Ads


Chipotle is doubling down on its “real” and “authentic” positioning with an ambitious new ad campaign aimed at rehabilitating its image and maybe even turning itself into a lifestyle brand such as Apple or Tom’s Shoes.

Chipotle, for Real,” focuses on the brand’s commitment to non-processed ingredients, emphasizing food is real, not processed. Under new CEO Brian Niccol, the Taco Bell marketing veteran who replaced founder Steve Ells at the helm of Chipotle, this first campaign promises to bring a new twist to the brand platform that has defined Chipotle since before it produced attack videos on “industrial” fast-food competitors.

Chipotle suffered embarrassingly over the past few years from food safety violations that few QSR competitors would commit. E. Coli, salmonella and norovirus cases traced back to local restaurants set off waves of successive recalls, customer defections and brand damage. And while Ells moved in a big way to correct the food safety problem at Chipotle, he couldn’t figure out how to market the brand’s way back to prosperity. So he stepped down as CEO last year and remains chairman. Meanwhile, Niccol’s job is to complete the comeback that Ells couldn’t.

The choice in approach now—turning back to Chipotle’s roots—is interesting for Niccol, because, among other things, he was expected to bring to Chipotle some of the marketing savvy and rapid-pace product introduction that made Yum! Brands-owned Taco Bell one of the shining lights of the fast-casual post-recession industry.

But marketing chief Chris Brandt, a Niccol recruit, said in June, according to Ad Age, that Chipotle wanted to become “a purpose-driven lifestyle brand,” which was interesting because many Chipotle customers already consider the brand an expression of their “authentic” and “real” lifestyle choice to consume only the purest food ingredients. And later, the magazine said, Brandt explained that Chipotle would “put a tagline on our brand that I don’t think a lot of other brands could or would do.”

TV ads include 15- and 30-second spots, one of which promotes the limited-time return of chorizo at Chipotle. The ad says the chain has nothing to hide about the pork-and-chicken sausage “but you can go ahead and wrap it in a tortilla anyway.”

Notably, chorizo is a meat variety that Chipotle introduced a few years ago after facing the reality of its limited menu selections, but it never took off with customers. And Chipotle’s biggest new-product gambit since then has been queso, which is selling fine.

There are touches of humor in the creative, not all of which has been publicized. A billboard and print ad, for example, say, “The only ingredient that’s hard to pronounce at Chipotle is ‘Chipotle.”


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